Leadership style has been shown to be a major factor in the effectiveness of the organization, and different leadership styles are sometimes more effective in different situations. DuBrin, Ireland, and Williams (1989) note that effective organizational leaders are generally consistent in the way they try to influence the behavior of group members, with this consistent pattern of behavior being the leadership style of a given manager. The behavior of most managers is too complex to be described by a single style, and a manager may modify his or her style to match a given situation. Different approaches have been used to try to categorize leadership style, using different terms and different criteria for analyzing the issue.
The classical method of classifying leadership styles is based on a continuum of authority exerted by the leader. The styles of leadership identified under this approach are autocratic, participative, and free-rein, as indicated by DuBrin, Ireland, and Williams. The autocratic leader maintains the most authority by issuing orders without consulting group members. The basis for leadership is formal authority. Such a leader may have a few favored subordinates, but in general the autocratic leader regards close interpersonal relationships with group members as superfluous. In some situations, the autocratic style is appropriate, but one argument against this style is that executives using it are not completely effective because they create so much turmoil for their subordinates.
Three levels of participative leadership are identified. A participative leader is one who shares decision-making authority with the group. The consultative leader is one who solicits opinions from the group before making a decision, though he or she does not feel constrained to accept the thinking of the group. A consensual leader encourages group discussion on an issue and then makes a decision reflecting the general consensus, so such a leader gives more authority to the group than does the consultative leader.